The Mission News: Math is a wonderful thing… We just aren’t teaching it right

“Pure mathematics is the world’s best game. It is more absorbing than chess, more of a gamble than poker, and lasts longer than Monopoly. It’s free. It can be played anywhere — Archimedes did it in a bathtub.” -Richard J. Trudeau

Before we dive into Monday’s newsletter we want to give a HUGE shoutout to our friends at Launchpeer. ? Thanks to them, we now have a sleek, new website ready for all of you to check out! Let us know what you think of the new digs. ??

News that matters

➜ “Thank You For Your Service” was released this past week and has brought attention to the unacceptable treatment our veterans receive. A recent article from WSJ shows that doctors will begin administering MDMA (aka ecstasy) to aid in therapy sessions for members with PTSD. This has been in various phases of testing for years with promising results, but hopefully this final trial will lead to FDA regulation and approval.

➜ Neuroscientists at the University of California have discovered exactly how to electrically stimulate the brain to improve memory recollection. By delivering electrical pulses to the brain’s entorhinal area, doctors were able to improve the memory of eight of their nine epileptic patients. This discovery could help treat patients with memory disorders like Alzheimer’s.

What we’re reading

“Voluntary evolution is within our grasp if we’re willing to admit that learning and evolution are the result of small shocks and traumas, periodically going outside our comfort zones, and then recovering. Adversity and stories are the way to reform Education and mediate a more voluntary evolution.

I’m the founder of The Mission, and we’re building those new myths. The mission of The Mission is to create new stories that help mediate evolution in the most voluntary way possible.”

How Not to Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking by Jordan Ellenberg

In school, we learn that math is a set of immovable rules. We are taught to become human calculators (something that seems pointless now that we all have access to computational devices). Number sense is important, but schools spend too much time developing plug-and-chug math machines and don’t focus enough on developing a true understanding of real life applications. Math is not just computation. Mathematical thinking is a way of observing and understanding the world. Math allows us to see hidden order in real world chaos.

In education, there is a wildly spread (and inaccurate) belief that some people just get math and some people just don’t. At an early age and without proper teaching, we tell kids they are or aren’t a ‘math person’ based off a 4-hour long, multiple-choice, standardized test. Then that child grows up dismissing math his whole life because he was told when he was 8 that he is just not ‘a math person’ and should focus on other subjects.

A child’s inability to understand math is not a fault in the child; rather it is a fault in the way math is taught. There should be a greater focus on mathematical thinking, not just mathematical computation.

Jordan Ellenberg teaches us how we can use mathematical thinking to make better decisions, solve real life problems, and identify the hidden forces at play. Those of you who ‘just don’t do math,’ this book will open your eyes to the importance of mathematical thinking. From the book:

“One of the most painful parts of teaching mathematics is seeing students damaged by the cult of the genius. The genius cult tells students it’s not worth doing mathematics unless you’re the best at mathematics, because those special few are the only ones whose contributions matter. We don’t treat any other subject that way! I’ve never heard a student say, ‘I like Hamlet, but I don’t really belong in AP English — that kid who sits in the front row knows all the plays, and he started reading Shakespeare when he was nine!’ Athletes don’t quit their sport just because one of their teammates outshines them. And yet I see promising young mathematicians quit every year, even though they love mathematics, because someone in their range of vision was ‘ahead’ of them.”

What we’re watching

How you can be good at math, and other surprising facts about learning

Jo Boaler believes that successful learning is all about mindset, and math learning is no different. There are not ‘math brains’ nor are there ‘not math brains.’

Math isn’t hard. It’s a language

We have to stop treating math like it’s an abstract concept that few can grasp. Randy Palisoc explains a new way to teach and understand math.

For other ideas on how we can transform math learning, check out Dan Meyer’s math curriculum.

Originally published in our M-F Newsletter.

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